Hey anybody going to talk about rescued sacrificial maidens. Like yes a guy with a fuck off sword turned up and so you’re not getting fed to the dragon/water creature/mountain spirit/vague embodiment of all things scary and you get to go back home, but is that really home? Your mom hugs you and your dad says he’s so happy you’re alive and you know that when they said they’ll do anything to keep you safe they didn’t really mean it. They have a feast prepared and you get to taste what they cooked for your funeral, help wash the dishes after. And it’s selfish to think that between the whole village with everyone in it and you they wouldn’t pick the lesser evil but it still leaves an emptiness in your chest, knowing exactly how much your life is worth. And the neighbors smile at you awkwardly and the neighbors’ kids yell “hey! I thought you died!” because they don’t know not to do that yet and maybe you did. Maybe you did.

And the hero with the fuck-off sword rode off into the sunset the way they always do but you’re still here and you herd the cows by the cliff where you were tied up in your cleanest clothes waiting to not be alive anymore and sometimes you think that would be easier and when you don’t come back one day, you can imagine it’s a relief for everyone involved. Maybe you’ll be the new thing to haunt the mountain, or maybe you’ll follow down the road and listen for cries that sound like yours did. Either way, there’s little left to fear. You know exactly how much your life is worth.

Mari sat and waited and waited. Her dress dug in almost as much as the ropes did. She had outgrown it years ago but it was the nicest thing she owned. And they couldn’t very well send her to her death in any old thing.

The town had somehow gotten the idea that their sacrifices should be presentable. Mari wasn’t sure that whatever was demanding the lives of young girls had the intelligence to appreciate how much effort was put into their funeral attire.

The village guards that brought her forward bantered back and forth with each other, markedly avoiding eye contact and conversation with her. Not that she was particularly in the mood to talk. She couldn’t feel much besides her dress and the rope. When she was a child and the older girls started being taken, she didn’t feel much then either. It was a distant thing, something that happened to the most beautiful girls first before they started scraping the bottom of the barrel. She supposed it was a compliment that she was one of the first girls in her generation to go. The girls who aged out, who survived, their lots weren’t much better. They were almost immediately set to the task of making more girls, with boys who had had to walk the girls they truly wanted into the forest.

Mari had no one who would have to settle for someone else after she was gone. No little sisters to tell herself she was doing this for. Just a mother and father who looked sullen one day and told her to go put on something nice and do something with her hair. Now she was here. Waiting. She mused that maybe the beast didn’t have an appetite today. And if it weren’t for the ropes, she would’ve walked back to the village to at least change, maybe get a snack. She’d come right back. No doubt hungry girls didn’t taste as good.

It came almost all at once. The rumbling stones on the ground, the shaking of trees that released no birds. Many woodland creatures had cleared out long ago or were far too good at hiding, hence the girls. The rumbling got closer and closer. Then there was the screeching. She expected it’d be a lot more blood-curdling, but no. It was just animal. Terrifying enough to warn prey. Maybe this creature resorted to sacrifices because it was absolute shit at normal hunting. Maybe if it had had a parent to teach it how to be quiet, how to stalk. Or maybe it did know all that and more. Like a scared, desperate town would feed it its choicest cuts if it screamed loud enough.

Mari found herself backing up against the tree. There it was. A feeling. Something aside from the bleak numbness she’d felt for days, maybe for all of her life.

The beast came crashing out of the trees in a show of menace. It reached the clearing and paused right in front of her. She looked at it, it looked at her. God, it was ugly, she thought. Scaly and slimy-looking, serpent-like. It did not head straight for her. It wound side to side, stalking, appraising.

“I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “Better get to it before I’m no longer to your taste.”

It blinked. In a moment it was lunging at her. It all happened so slowly. She’d had time to blink at least twice before impact was made. And then there was blood. So much blood. More blood than she had ever seen in her life. The creature shrieked and stumbled away from her as the wound between its eyes spurted like a fountain. It waved its giant head from side to side, trying to shake off whatever had wounded it. Amidst the screeching, there was another sound. Mari looked up to the branches of the tree she was tied to in time to see a figure leap off and onto the beast’s head, driving the sword deeper.

“Squirm more!” She thought she heard. She watched the thing writhe and thrash about the clearing, the back half of its body coming into view. It’s back legs seemed to be so small.

The beast squealed as it’s assailant screamed, or was that screaming? It might’ve been laughing. No, they were definitely laughing. Jovially guffawing as they held onto their sword and pushed it into the creature’s head as it wailed. They were still laughing when the thing finally stilled. It took a while, but in time the assailant grunted as they yanked their sword out unceremoniously and slid down the creature’s snout, slipping slightly in the pool of blood. They seemed to find their little stumble comical and chuckled to themselves. When they finally noticed Mari, they flashed a smile.

“You’re safe now.” They said, approaching confidently, covered in blood with a sword drawn. Then Mari was afraid. She began to scream. The stranger rolled their eyes, as though this was a common occurrence. Mari pulled against the ropes, against her dress, against the tree and the forest and screamed and screamed.

“Calm down. It’s dead, see?” The stranger kicked the creature’s head to demonstrate their point. “No need to fear now. I will loosen your ropes. Please,” They raised their hands, “Do not hit me.”

Mari panted but stopped her screaming and thrashing. The stranger approached slowly, arms still raised. When they got near she flinched, as they used that same bloodied sword to slice her ropes. The ropes fell around her and she tried immediately to back away but her legs wouldn’t support her.

“Easy now,” They said. “This must have been a terrifying ordeal for you. But, the beast is dead now. You are saved. Your town is saved. There will be no more sacrifices.” They said proudly. She stared at them.


“Oh please, if you must thank me,” they walked back to the dead beast, “Be good and show me back to your village.” They raised their sword and brought it down on the beast’s neck.

The saddle was more uncomfortable than the ropes. Mari had never been on a horse before. After watching the man separate the beast’s head from its body, chattering idly while he did, he offered his hand to her, giving a showy bow. When she glanced from it to his face, still cowering by a tree, he took her hand, gently, to his credit, and helped her to her feet.

“Your village?” He asked. He might have said other words, but she wasn’t listening. She couldn’t listen. He was still smiling.

He’d put her on the horse and hauled the beast’s head unto the cart attached to it. How none of the guards had noticed they were there was beyond her. He still talked idly as he walked the horse out of the forest and into the town. She caught bits here and there, she thought maybe she might have answered him at times. The first thing she heard beyond his voice was the clattering of something to the ground, then a scream. Then there were people gathering around, eyes wide, murmuring in disbelief.

The man called out, “Fear not, humble villagers! The beast is slain! There shall be no more sacrifices!” He stepped aside to reveal the head of the beast. The villagers gasped and the murmuring began anew. The man reached a hand to Mari and helped her off the horse. On shaky legs, she walked with him. “Your maiden is safe, as shall all your maidens be. Go, girl. To your home, tell your family the good news.”

Mari looked at him then at the people of her village. And she walked home, just like that. Her mother answered the door wearily at first. Something about needing no more flowers or food stuffs or condolences, then her eyes were wide and she was screaming. She flung her arms around her daughter and flung praises to the sky.

“My Mari, my baby,” she cried. “How? How?”

“Man in the woods. Killed the thing. Stabbed it in the head.” She murmured. “Only took one sword.”

Her father came crying next, demanding to see this hero, to thank him. Mari could not for the life of her remember his name. Had he given it? Had any of this truly happened? Was she alive?

It didn’t take long for her to realize that she was indeed alive. She knew this because she had kept doing the things she had done before she was supposed to die. Chores, social calls, prayers, and the like. She ate meals with her parents in silence. She didn’t know what to say to them. She answered their questions when they asked and pretended not to notice their side-long glances at each other. She thought she might have done that a lot before, pretending. When she went outside, she listened for the whispers. The other villagers always had a new conspiracy about what might have taken place in the forest that day. Her favourite to hear about was that it wasn’t herself that had rode back into town. It was some other creature in her form. Maybe she and the monster had switched souls, allowing the stranger to kill it with more ease. And now the monster walked among them, forced to live in a weaker body, to salivate over the prey it could have had. Mari had always had a habit of staring too long at other girls, but she didn’t think she particularly wanted to devour them, not in the way the villagers thought anyways. She pretended not to hear them too. Part of her hoped it was true. A child once ran up to her and asked if she was still alive.

“I- I don’t- maybe?” She’d tried to answer.

“My mama says you died in your heart because you were supposed to die in your body but you didn’t.” The child swung his legs absently as he sat on the steps to the well. Mari wondered if she had ever been that small.

“What if I did?” She asked him.

“I don’t know. What if?” He looked up at her with large brown eyes. Before she could think of an answer, a woman was calling and he was scurrying away. She watched him go. Maybe her eyes tracked him too long, but his mother saw her, seemed to freeze momentarily, then bundled her child away quickly with her empty buckets. Mari wondered if anyone had ever bundled her away like that, trying to protect her small body from harm. She was no longer that small. No one would bundle her away again.

At a town meeting she attended, people shouted over each other. The only time they weren’t looking at her or whispering was when they were shouting over each other. Something about taxes or payments. She’d never had to go to these before. On account of that she might as well have been dead from birth, being a completely healthy and even-complexioned girl. But now that that was no longer the case, she was expected to act just like everybody else, which meant sitting in this stuffy room as everyone yelled at their headman. A middle aged man, with little patience and even less spine stood in front of the crowd.

“Alright, alright,” he tried to settle the crowd. “The adventurer set us back a few but we’ll survive. We’ll have more hands now that we’re not losing them every week.” He laughed.

Then she began paying attention. She raised her hand and once noticed, the room hushed. The headman’s eyes slid over her purposefully, looking for anyone else to hear out. No one spoke above a murmur, chastising her for attempting to speak but also curious as to what she would say.

“Yes, Miss Mari,” the headman finally relented.

She put her hand down, momentarily wondering if she should stand, and decided not to. “Um. What if it comes back?”

“I’m sorry? What if what comes back?” He asked. Mari took a sharp breath and the room seemed to flinch.

“The monster,” she said evenly. “What if the monster comes back? Or a new one? Demands sacrifices?”

“Ahem, well. We managed so far, haven’t we? Anyone else-”

“But you just said we need hands. What if no other adventurers or slayers come by?”

“Well, we can’t very well afford another one of those, can we?” He laughed nervously.

Then she stood, sharply, scraping her chair legs against the hard floor. “Then can we do it ourselves?”

“What? Kill that thing? Miss Mari, it was quite fearsome. I’m not sure-”

“I saw it. It was lazy. It had no instincts. Maybe because we fed it so much. But a new one, if we didn’t feed it, would probably be smaller. Sharper and faster, yes, but if we all-”

“We can not put so many people in danger. None of us is a skilled fighter.”

“We could be!” Her breath quickened. “We could. We could. If we tried. If we trapped it. We could lose a few of us at once instead of many over time. We could-”

“Miss Mari, that is barbaric! Speak not of such things.”


“It has been weeks, Miss! We’ve made allowances for you but you cannot continue to behave this way. Sit down at once.”

Mari did not sit down. She stood, staring, the sound of blood rushing in her ears. She looked down to see blood touching her feet, a pool of it slowly soaking up through her shoes. She left the meeting hall in a whirlwind and ran. Past the well, past the shops, past the gates, and past the trees, she ran. She would apologize for the mess of her shoes later but for now, she had to run. She did not pay attention to where she ran until she finally stopped, crumbling to her knees and taking ragged breaths.

“Barbaric,” she panted. “Barbaric?”

She looked up ready to shoot a scathing retort and froze. In front of her, the slowly decaying body of the beast lay headless, motionless. Huge chunks of its flesh gone missing. She was suddenly aware of the noise of the forest. Birds in the trees, creatures skittering around. Outt of the corner of her eye, she watched a fox saunter over to the carcass and take a piece of it. She didn’t move, it didn’t seem to notice her.

She screamed. Bloody and raw she screamed. Angry and hungry she screamed. The fox flattened its ears, seemed to think about growling, then ran into the bushes.

“One. Fucking. Sword! It took one sword! One man with one sword! Hundreds of girls and it only took one sword!” Hot tears flowed down her face as her voice ripped out of her. She fell to her hands and knees and tore at the ground and screamed into the darkened earth. Hoping the beast would hear her from beyond the grave. “You took so many of us! They gave you so many of us! And all we needed was one bloody sword to end you!” She fell face first into the shallow pit she had dug and continued screaming. She laid there till it was dark again, her screaming devolving into hoarse sobs.

“One sword. Just one sword. He was laughing.”

Nobody came to look for her. She eventually dragged her body back to her home. She slid in like a ghost and ignored her parents’ concerned questions. They did not touch her. They did not come near her. She went to her bedroom and looked around it. She looked down at her shoes. Besides the dirt, they were completely clean. Not a drop of blood on them.

She sniffed and rubbed her nose with her arm. "Fine, then.”

She was gone the next morning. Like the ghost she had become. No one said anything, not out loud anyways. Even though the wildlife had returned to that forest, no one dared to step in, for fear of what they might find or what might find them. It was often whispered that the only thing missing from the home that day was an ax.

Hey this is DELICIOUS